Smash Bros. Creator: Storytelling in Games Still Has Far To Go

Smash Bros. Creator: Storytelling in Games Still Has Far To Go

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Lengthy introductions that make players wait before playing are just one of the annoyances Masahiro Sakurai has with storytelling in games.

Masahiro Sakurai, creator of Kid Icarus: Uprising and the Super Smash Bros. series, says that videogame stories are too often more annoying than they are moving. "As a player, as someone who's been playing games for a long time, the stories that get told in videogames are honestly irksome to me pretty often," he wrote. "For example, games that take forever to get through the intro and won't let you start playing, or games that go through the trouble of being fully voiced and wind up having their tempo all messed up as a result. I just want to enjoy the game and I think I'm just intolerant of aspects that block that enjoyment. I can enjoy a story in any other form of media; I just want the game to let me play it already."

Sakurai feels that the reason this happens is because developers don't often match the story to the content of the game. For Kid Icarus: Uprising, which he wrote himself, he explains "I did it [wrote the game myself] so I could write a story that jibed with the game, one that took advantage of the game's advantages. Every character, including the bosses, had their personalities shaped by their roles in the game, or the structure of the game itself." He feels that the story and game were very intertwined, and that story writers and game designers could seriously benefit from taking the time to think about how the story relates to the game, and vice-versa.

Sakurai also talks about how games that put a heavy focus on the story over the gameplay can actually be quite frustrating to players. For an example, he wrote "Let's talk about how, in RPGs and things, a character that you spent the game raising dies or leaves your party for the sake of the story. From a gamer standpoint, that's dreadful; it's totally unreasonable. In games where you're fighting against enemies, you're playing from the perspective of the hero, and you're being asked to basically win every time. If players wind up in a predicament because of what the story calls for, that's like penalizing them even though they made no mistake. As gameplay, it's lacking."

Source: Famitsu via Polygon

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I'm not totally convinced,

in KotoR was pretty interesting, although you have to be careful because people don't want to lose their items etc. And I guess part of the reason it works is that you don't have to level characters in KotoR individually.

I agree the story should always reflect the gameplay and more people need to do that. It's best if you hit on the gameplay and the character/story as early as possible so you can build everything to suit that.

you have NO idea Sakurai. Heck, just good stories in games in general have a long way to go.

Steven Bogos:

"Let's talk about how, in RPGs and things, a character that you spent the game raising dies or leaves your party for the sake of the story. From a gamer standpoint, that's dreadful; it's totally unreasonable. In games where you're fighting against enemies, you're playing from the perspective of the hero, and you're being asked to basically win every time. If players wind up in a predicament because of what the story calls for, that's like penalizing them even though they made no mistake. As gameplay, it's lacking."

Aren't challenge & conflict integral parts of both gaming and narrative?

In any story or game, things need to go wrong once in a while to build drama & give the protagonist something to overcome. I don't agree that this would be a problem in a game, as situations that require you to suddenly change your strategy are often an excellent use of game mechanics to build narrative tension.

Isn't the whole reason most videogames take place because precisely Because the player character or the world itself has gotten into some kind of predicament before the player even showed up? I can't say ANY of the issues he mentions being a bad thing out of hand: character leaving, winning every fight, storyline being out of your hands. It's how they are handled that can ruin a game.

DVS BSTrD:
Isn't the whole reason most videogames take place because precisely Because the player character or the world itself has gotten into some kind of predicament before the player even showed up? I can't say ANY of the issues he mentions being a bad thing out of hand: character leaving, winning every fight, storyline being out of your hands. It's how they are handled that can ruin a game.

I don't think he was talking about these things individually, he was discussing how they connect. having to win every fight makes sense from a game-play perspective, as does having a resurrection system for downed characters. Having these things than making it so you can lose fights but still advance, or having a character die and not be resurrectable in cutsceens makes a disconnect form game play to story. It also punishes the player in gameplay for things out of their control which can seem unfair.

hmm im not too sure if the guy who made the "story" in Smash Bros. knows anything about Story-telling. But... i'll be nice and consider what he said. I do agree that it can be a bit boring to sit through a long intro but i rarely see this happen in most games. Most of the time, a game will start you off with either a lame ass tutorial <which i hate> or some other action scene just to get things going. After a few minutes of that, THAN the long intro starts. Which i can be okay with only if the acting and dialogue is good. If not, i'd rather skip it. [and then we have to deal with games that dont let you skip!]

i also find what he said about RPG's to be interesting, but i dont find those things to be problems at all. in fact, they work really well for me. When a character that you spent time leveling and getting to know, dies, well it is a disaster, it makes you feel like you really LOST something close to you, it's a bigger impact than in any other type of game usually. Take a look at how famous the death of Aerith in FF7 is. There are tons of games with characters that died but why was it such an impact in that game? Because she was part of your team, you worked with her, got her abilities stronger and spent plenty of time reading her dialogue. This kind of stuff rarely happens in any other type of game.

In terms of the player never loosing there are games where the player does loose in the way that shit didnt go as planned and ending up in the same spot or even worse. STALKER for example, you see a place and go investigate, a bunch of mutants show up and winning is impossible, the player tries to run away and eventually makes out of it alive but in the process wasted a bunch of medkits and ammo without gaining anything. Thats a loss in my book without having the Game Over screen, you lost a battle but not the war.

I agree with Sakurai. He seems to really get what I want from a game's story, in any case.

Video games are fundamentally different from other media forms because you get a small taste of the hero's adventures as you step into their shoes. All a movie or book needs to do to establish a villain as a threat is say they're a threat, but if you walk all over the final boss and the player character starts talking about how incredibly strong it was, you get dissonance that really takes you out of experience. These things need to be balanced. Games need to stop trying to be movies.

Not exactly the best source in regard to storytelling in videogames. Now if someone from, say, Quantic Dream, Bioware, or Irrational Games said the same thing I might be more inclined to believe them.

"Let's talk about how, in RPGs and things, a character that you spent the game raising dies or leaves your party for the sake of the story. From a gamer standpoint, that's dreadful; it's totally unreasonable.

Tales of Symphonia... I didn't like having to choose.

I've honestly been thinking about that a lot recently. The truth is, gameplay and story tend to work against each other in most RPGs. Take Mass Effect for example. The story is telling me to rush to find out everything I can to stop Sovereign, yet the gameplay not only wants me to go around not even caring about such things, but fucking expects it! Wrex dies unless you have managed to get a boatload of renegade or paragon points (which likely requires at least some side questing) or decide to ignore the plot and help him out. While the story keeps stressing how everything other than stopping sovereign is virtually irrelevant. Shit, I was still fucking around doing side missions after Virmire, when the final act of the game begins. The same is true of most Bioware games, but of those I've played I found it most jarring with Mass Effect.

Zombie_Moogle:

Steven Bogos:

"Let's talk about how, in RPGs and things, a character that you spent the game raising dies or leaves your party for the sake of the story. From a gamer standpoint, that's dreadful; it's totally unreasonable. In games where you're fighting against enemies, you're playing from the perspective of the hero, and you're being asked to basically win every time. If players wind up in a predicament because of what the story calls for, that's like penalizing them even though they made no mistake. As gameplay, it's lacking."

Aren't challenge & conflict integral parts of both gaming and narrative?

In any story or game, things need to go wrong once in a while to build drama & give the protagonist something to overcome. I don't agree that this would be a problem in a game, as situations that require you to suddenly change your strategy are often an excellent use of game mechanics to build narrative tension.

The problem is when the game punished you the player for something that happened completely out of your control. If a character dies in a cutscene, for instance. You may have been winning your fights absolutely perfectly, but the game still decides to punish you and handicap you for something the developers decided to force through cutscenes.

I think something like Fire Emblem does it best. Characters can die, but only if you fuck up. If you play well, it's perfectly possible to keep all your allies alive. If you play badly, it's perfectly possible for them to all die horrible deaths. You don't at any point get punished for something the developers decided to force on you, as it all revolves around your choice. In that regards, I'd say FE is better than even notable WRPGs like Mass Effect, which still punish you for stuff the developers wanted to include.

deathzero021:

i also find what he said about RPG's to be interesting, but i dont find those things to be problems at all. in fact, they work really well for me. When a character that you spent time leveling and getting to know, dies, well it is a disaster, it makes you feel like you really LOST something close to you, it's a bigger impact than in any other type of game usually. Take a look at how famous the death of Aerith in FF7 is.

Thing is, Aerith's death is actually a great example of gameplay and story conflicting with each other.

Up until that point in the game, your characters have almost literally fought every form of monster, villain and demon imaginable. They've taken fire spells to the face, been ravaged by hundreds of claws and teeth and beaks, fought giant robots with miniguns and rocketlaunchers, and generally endured through every kind of hell imaginable. One of the key things is that any time a character gets KO'd, a Phoenix Down can bring them right back up.

Then, after all this, Aerith takes one sword slice to the tummy in a cutscene, and she's gone forever. Not only is it an event which is completely beyond the player's control, but it jars with the previous twenty hours of gameplay where the same character is able to take everything up to a nuclear explosion to the chops, and carry on fighting. If Aerith is so frail that she dies from one stab wound, how the hell did she make it that far in the game at all?

While it's an effective piece of emotional manipulation, that scene in FFVII also creates a massive divide between the gameplay and the story. It creates two sets of rules for the characters to follow- one set during gameplay, and one set during cutscenes. And having a two-tier ruleset ends up destroying whatever cohesion the story may have been trying to create.

While I never thought of Kid Icarus: Uprising as having a great (or even particularly interesting) story, I did appreciate that the story is integrated into the game, told as you play, rather than sandwiched between levels in the form of cutscenes. Unfortunately, most story-heavy games probably couldn't pull off something like this without entirely reworking themselves.

And then there's the Metal Gear franchise.

P.S. Thanks

P.P.S. I wonder if he's played The Walking Dead. That seems closer to what he's looking for in storytelling.

j-e-f-f-e-r-s:

Zombie_Moogle:

Steven Bogos:

"Let's talk about how, in RPGs and things, a character that you spent the game raising dies or leaves your party for the sake of the story. From a gamer standpoint, that's dreadful; it's totally unreasonable. In games where you're fighting against enemies, you're playing from the perspective of the hero, and you're being asked to basically win every time. If players wind up in a predicament because of what the story calls for, that's like penalizing them even though they made no mistake. As gameplay, it's lacking."

Aren't challenge & conflict integral parts of both gaming and narrative?

In any story or game, things need to go wrong once in a while to build drama & give the protagonist something to overcome. I don't agree that this would be a problem in a game, as situations that require you to suddenly change your strategy are often an excellent use of game mechanics to build narrative tension.

The problem is when the game punished you the player for something that happened completely out of your control. If a character dies in a cutscene, for instance. You may have been winning your fights absolutely perfectly, but the game still decides to punish you and handicap you for something the developers decided to force through cutscenes.

I think something like Fire Emblem does it best. Characters can die, but only if you fuck up. If you play well, it's perfectly possible to keep all your allies alive. If you play badly, it's perfectly possible for them to all die horrible deaths. You don't at any point get punished for something the developers decided to force on you, as it all revolves around your choice. In that regards, I'd say FE is better than even notable WRPGs like Mass Effect, which still punish you for stuff the developers wanted to include.

Interesting point, but I have to disagree in that the player shouldn't be in control of everything that happens, or it's not a story; the prime example of this would be Create Mode in Minecraft. It's a lot of fun, but it isn't a narrative.

How is a character dying any different than enemies spawning or a boss battle? They're inconvenient in the sense that they make it more difficult to get from A to B, and the player has no control of when or if they happen. Every challenge a player faces is in essence a punishment for playing the game as intended

Considering that Uprising's story and writing kicked ass, I'm inclined to listen to Sakurai on this. That was a game whose story was built to serve its gameplay yet still managed to be witty, fun, and genuinely emotional with some great twists. Seriously, Uprising's writing was probably the main factor in shooting it up from a game I was moderately interested in before picking it up to my GotY last year.

(Of course, a statement like that may come as a surprise if your only insight on the game came from that @#$!ing awful ZP review.)

Masahiro Sakurai, creator of Kid Icarus: Uprising and the Super Smash Bros. series, says that videogame stories are too often more annoying than they are moving. "As a player, as someone who's been playing games for a long time, the stories that get told in videogames are honestly irksome to me pretty often," he wrote. "For example, games that take forever to get through the intro and won't let you start playing, or games that go through the trouble of being fully voiced and wind up having their tempo all messed up as a result. I just want to enjoy the game and I think I'm just intolerant of aspects that block that enjoyment. I can enjoy a story in any other form of media; I just want the game to let me play it already."

I actually agree with this; it's why I don't enjoy games as much as I used to. I like good stories in games, but at the same time I play games to play games. The story should be secondary, unless it's a movie, book or other form of media just made to tell stories. I think this is also the reason why I don't enjoy newer Zelda games as much as the old ones. Hell, I couldn't get past the first 40 minutes of Skyward Sword... yet. It's just so damned monotonous.

Eclipse Dragon:

"Let's talk about how, in RPGs and things, a character that you spent the game raising dies or leaves your party for the sake of the story. From a gamer standpoint, that's dreadful; it's totally unreasonable.

Tales of Symphonia... I didn't like having to choose.

Yeah, that is one of the few heartbreaking moments in any game. I always preferred keeping both alive and having the one you showed in my team.

I agree. I've played Crysis and Crysis 2 lately, and the difference is immense (thank you, consoles).

Crysis: 30-second skippable intro where a guy tells you you're looking for a scientist on the island. You jump out of a plane, your shit gets fucked up, the game tells you some basic controls then gives you some enemies to experiment your abilities on the way you want to. Awesome.

Crysis 2: Boring and stodgy Modern Warfare style "you get to run down this corridor and pretend it's gameplay, oooh it's totally tense" bullshit followed by overblown and boring cutscenes. Once you encounter enemies, the games says "We're going to activate your abilities one at a time so you don't end up trying to learn too much at one, you poor little thing" and patronisingly pats you on the head.

Guess which way gets you into the story quicker?

I think comments posted so far show me one thing. There are two kinds of gamers, and two kinds of games when it comes to story. People who prefer cutscenes that establish a setting and give depth which is then built upon by player experience and action (my preference. And yes, I liked Metal Gear even if it was a little heavy in this aspect).
And then those people who prefer the Half-Life approach, or the "I still have control of my character during dialogue, so I'm gonna run around the area until I can continue playing" model of story development. That might sound harsh or insulting, but it's the quickest way to describe what I'm on about. Rather than a cutscene a character might walk alongside you as your travelling, giving you story as you go, that kinda thing.
Both are perfectly fine ways of going about a story, but only if done well, and in my experience the former has been done better than the latter more often than not.
Story has a long way to go, but don't assume there's a "one size fits all" answer. You can't tell every story without a cutscene.

As for Sakurai's comments on "punishing" the player, well sometimes it fits, sometimes it doesn't. It can be a ball ache having the game impose something on you like a character death, but some games also get stale because they don't change the pace or add any extra challenge.
One thing is certain though, a franchise has to remain consistent in it's method of storytelling, otherwise you'll just alienate the player.

 

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